For all their box-office success, superheroes haven’t gotten much respect of late. A 2017 study reported that preschoolers who identify with superheroes tend to be more aggressive than their peers. Numerous pop-culture commentators, including Bill Maher, argue that these characters share some blame for the presidency of Donald Trump, citing superheroes’ advocacy of vigilantism, and the comic-book message that only one extraordinary man can save us.
But new research suggests that the Man of Steel may have been maligned: It reports that people exposed to images of Superman were more likely than others to engage in helpful behavior.
“Heroes loom large as exemplars of morality. They often embody virtues that we wish to express in our lives,” writes a research team led by psychologists Daryl Van Tongeren of Hope College and Jeffrey Green of Virginia Commonwealth University. Their findings suggests that subtle reminders of the superhero ethos can inspire us to emulate their selfless behavior.
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